Here’s a familiar scenario: It is a sweltering summer morning in Delhi (or Mumbai, or Kolkata, there are few places in the country where you can escape the heat at this time of year) and you’re driving down a main road on your way to work. The car ahead of you is moving as slowly as a bullock cart. So you honk, but the driver doesn’t budge. You curse aloud and somehow pull up at the side of the infuriating vehicle. A wall of heat hits you in the face as you roll down the window and hurl a few choice abuses at the driver before hitting the gas pedal and speeding on your way, now cursing the driver, the traffic, your boss, the soaring temperatures and the world in general.
Blame the sun if you’ve been feeling crabby for no reason in the past few weeks. If recent studies are to be believed, when temperatures rise, the tolerance levels of people drop more than twice to what they are are in pleasant weather conditions. Moreover, they are 10 times as likely to get angry and irritated.
What heat does
“Hot weather not only causes physical discomfort but also severe mental stress,” says Dr Surbhi Soni, psychiatrist at Fortis Hospital, New Delhi. “A reaction to any stimulus or event is based on two main factors – the individual and the environment. When the environment is discomforting, it directly affects your thoughts, feelings and mood and thus your behaviour.” Simply put, you are less likely to snap at people when you’re in, say, an air-conditioned room (even if it is your office) than when you’re stuck at home during load-shedding hours.
Dr S Sudersenan, senior consultant for psychology at B L Kapur Hospital, New Delhi, says that high temperatures affect higher mental functions like thinking and logical reasoning. “Basically, your brain slows down and becomes sluggish. Any kind of mental processing becomes tough work and so it causes you to react in an aggressive manner to even little things that you wouldn’t have cared about otherwise,” he says.
Ever heard of electrolytes? Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially nerve, heart, muscle) use to transfer electrical signals to communicate with each other and with other cells. “Electrolytes are carried by the salts in your body,” says Dr Sudersenan. “The more you sweat in the summer, the more salts you lose and hence, your body is rapidly depleted of electrolytes.” According to Dr Sudersenan, this loss of electrolytes is a key reason for irritability. “Therefore, it is essential to maintain a fluid-sodium balance during the summer months,” he says.
Beat the heat
So just how do you stay calm and keep your cool in these horrid summer months?
Here are some pointers:
Acclimatise your body: Yes, we know it is tempting to stay in the AC for as long as possible, but once in a while, it is a good idea to step out for a brief period and let your body get used to the heat. “If you suddenly go out into the heat after spending long hours in the AC, the body reacts more aggressively. You may suffer from stress and mood swings,” says Dr Sudersenan.
Go in for light exercise: Hate going to the gym? Now you have a valid excuse to skip those hours on the treadmill. “When you exercise heavily, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium,” says Dr Sudersenan. These electrolytes must be replaced to keep the electrolyte concentrations of your body fluids constant, so the most that the experts recommend is light exercise, followed by plenty of sports drinks or nimbu pani with salt.
Eat light: In the summer, at least, you are what you eat. So steer clear of heavy, fatty and oily food and stick to the light stuff.
Take a break: Once a day, let yourself go. Cut through the clutter and keep some time aside to do exactly what you want, like reading or listening to music.
Heart patients, take special care
If you are a heart patient, being stressed out is a bad thing. In the summer, therefore, you need to take extra precautions. Hot weather not only increases the risk of heart attacks, but when the weather is hot and humid, it tends to usher in heat-related disorders such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It also makes you sweat more, and this raises your risk factors.
According to the American Heart Association, people with heart disease and elderly people should be checked on at least twice a day during a heat wave. They should stay in a cool place as far as possible, drink water before stepping out and get their prescription for medicines adjusted to suit the high summer temperatures.